Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:
I am a 14-year-old teenager. I read your column regularly, as do all the members of my family. The letter that you published from “A Concerned Mother” who described the goings-on amongst teenagers struck a sensitive chord. Unfortunately, she was right on target.
I decided to write to you because this past Shabbos afternoon, some of my mother’s friends were visiting and the discussion turned to your column. Most of the ladies felt that the letter writer was exaggerating, that what she wrote may be valid for “youth at risk,” but not for yeshiva students who come from good homes and are doing well in their studies. I didn’t think that it was my place to get involved in the discussion, so I kept quiet. Upon reflection however, I felt I had a responsibility to write to you and tell you the real story in the hope that some positive steps can be taken to alleviate this terrible problem.
I live in a good neighborhood and go to a very fine frum yeshiva. There are many shuls, yeshivas and kosher restaurants in our area, and one would think it is a great place in which to thrive and grow in Torah. While, Baruch HaShem, many do, many more, specifically teenagers, succumb to the pressure and have become lost. The teenagers I’m referring to are hard-partying, carefree teens, interested only in “having a good time”. Their life on the whole is one big party.
Many are out in the night until one or two in the morning, sometimes later. These kids are from very frum homes, but care nothing about Torah values. Their whole purpose in life is to be “normal” like the rest of the world. The biggest problem in all this is that the pressure they apply is so strong that it becomes very easy to be dragged in. It takes only one girl to put a boy’s screen name on a good girl’s computer, and that girl’s life could change for the worse forever.
It is so hard to have friends these days and still live by correct Torah standards. The pressures are tremendous. Kids these days know how to hurt, they know how to gang up and be mean. They know how to exclude someone who is trying to be good. They know how to mock and they know how to make everyone want to be “cool” like them. I don’t know if any parents are aware of the amount of time boys and girls spend hanging out together. The most innocent places are turned into hangouts. Places that nobody would suspect.
The fact is that many kids have no trouble lying outright and casually telling their mothers they are going one place, when in actuality, they are going somewhere else. Girls and boys go into cars together, they talk to each other on cell phones, they chat constantly with each other on-line. Then they go to school the next day and exchange their stories, they make their lives seem enviable and exciting to everyone. Teenagers these days are “dating” and these are kids who are considered “good” kids from “good” homes. And believe me, they are not dating in the hopes of getting married.
Probably the worst problem in this whole situation is that much of this is considered to be normal. It’s all too common nowadays for girls and boys to talk to each other or hang out together. I hear stories of the best girls talking to boys. It’s not even an issue… it’s become NORMAL. But this can’t be normal! It’s not right. It’s not the way Jewish young people are supposed to live their lives.
I heard a great girl once say that she doesn’t think it’s bad to hang out and listen to music – it doesn’t define who you are. Then what exactly defines you? What has our sick culture done to us? Apart from boys and girls, there are movies, there are TV shows that have become a part of teenagers’ lives. Nightly TV shows and movies are lunchroom conversation. Where does that leave kids who don’t watch these shows? They either separate themselves and are labeled “snobs” or “nerds,” or they have to listen to all the latest romances on all the TV shows.
It’s a wonder that there are good kids left. You might of course be saying to yourself, “I don’t have a TV. I don’t even have a VCR… I don’t have to worry.” But do you have a computer? These days, you can get any movie or TV show on-line within minutes and for free. And even if you don’t have the Internet, does your teenager have a friend who has access to this stuff?
The music everybody is listening to these days is totally opposite from everything that Judaism stands for. It is so common to listen to non-Jewish music that many people don’t even think twice about it. It is so easy for kids to burn CD’s for their friends who have parents who don’t permit them to buy non-Jewish CD’s. Teenagers will sit for hours with their music, out of touch with the world, exposed to the disgusting and filthy words found in this music. There is no way that it cannot make an impact on them and the way they act. Indeed, the language that is used and the way that kids will curse everyone and everything is disgusting.
Some girls dress inappropriately and walk around without caring the least. Girls can be ridiculed for wearing stockings and their loosely fitted shirts are mocked at. And it’s not just dress, but an entire behavior pattern. They shriek and cackle in the streets. Yet, this is the way to be a “fun” girl. There is a certain carefree, careless attitude. They want to believe that they can do everything they wish, go wherever they want, and no one can stop them. They believe that there is nothing wrong with being out late on any night. If they have to lie to their parents to be where they are, so be it. They rationalize that their parents would never understand anyway.
This attitude is carried over to camp as well. Girls are on the constant “lookout” for boys, making up places to meet them, and are always on the phone with them. It is literally impossible to escape all this. It follows you from junior high, to high school, to seminary, and they don’t realize that the life-style in which they grew up with will impact on their adulthood. Even those special occasions that are supposed to be immersed in Torah are transformed into means for girls and boys to get into trouble. Yomim Tovim like Purim and Simchat Torah are opportunities for them to get drunk and hang out together. You may wonder how I know all this. I know because people love to talk and I see it going on with my own eyes. At the same time, I am not a nerd. Baruch HaShem, I have many friends who are like me. I have to say, however, that the temptations are strong and it’s a struggle every day.
Don’t write off what I’m saying too quickly either. You might be thinking to yourself, “my daughter/son” is the greatest. She/he davens intensely, does chesed… “I am talking about your kids here – “great” kids. Kids who are thought to be good kids, but who somehow got “pulled in”. Many of them can’t distinguish between right and wrong anymore. Issues have become blurred and even if they do regret doing what they did, they just go on playing the same games, the same routines.
I am sick of it. I am sick of watching these kids make it seem like life is a party, one happy jumble. I am sick of hearing about their fun, of wondering what it is all like. I am sick of the times I have even the slightest urge to be “part of them.” I am sick of the daily temptations, the daily battles I have with myself. It is hard to be a teenager these days to live by the Torah’s ways. I know that when these teenagers turn into adults, they will regret those wild years and when they have problems with their own kids, they will wonder, “Why is my kid that way… why is he/she behaving the way she is?” And so the cycle continues.
I recently read an announcement in the papers that many organizations and schools are asking for computers to be banned. It’s too little, too late. Something more has to be done. But nothing is happening to stop this deterioration of our youth. So I ask you, Rebbetzin, you and the whole frum community, where is this all going? What will be?